‘Empire’ Actor Jussie Smollett Charged With Filing False Police Report

Updated at 8:56 p.m. ET

Empire actor Jussie Smollett is being charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about being attacked on the street, Chicago police said Wednesday.

Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote in a tweet, “Felony criminal charges have been approved by @CookCountySAO against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report. Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.

A statement released by Smollett’s attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said, “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”

Earlier in the evening, Guglielmi had tweeted that there was a dramatic turn in the story.

“Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury,” he wrote.

The news marks the latest development in a story that has been wracked with controversy and confusion since it first emerged late last month.

Initially, Chicago police revealed that the actor, who is black and gay and portrays a gay character on Empire, had reported suffering a vicious assault while walking downtown in the early morning hours. According to the department, Smollett said two individuals shouted racist and homophobic slurs, physically attacked him and wrapped a rope around his neck before they fled.

The assault, which Chicago police vowed to investigate as a “possible hate crime,” elicited outrage not only from Smollett’s friends and colleagues but also from a number of politicians such as Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both of whom tweeted their support for Smollett after the allegations surfaced.

The unsettling story would not remain so straightforward as the investigation progressed, however.

Early in February authorities brought in two Nigerian brothers, at least one of whom Smollett knows, questioning them first as persons of interest, then as “potential suspects” — only to release them without charge shortly afterward. According to police, “new evidence” that arose during their interrogations “had shifted” the investigation.

And they announced that they would need to again speak with Smollett.

All the while, as rumors and reports began to circulate that Smollett himself had a hand in orchestrating the attack — rumors that police batted down earlier this month as having “no evidence” — the Empire star maintained his original account in comments to the media.

“At first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, because it’s the truth,’ ” Smollett said of his reaction to the rumors, in an interview with Good Morning America. “Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.’ And then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, it’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth; you don’t even want to see the truth.’ ”

Smollett’s account came against the backdrop of the latest national data compiled on hate crimes in the U.S.

According to the FBI’s “Hate Crime Statistics, 2017,” released in mid-2018, there was a 17 percent increase in hate crimes since 2016.

In 2017, there were 7,175 bias crimes involving 8,493 victims. Nearly 60 percent of the victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity; 20.6 percent were targeted owing to their religion; and 15.8 percent were targeted for their sexual orientation.

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